Customers entering their favorite Intimacy lingerie boutique today won’t notice a lot that’s different, even though there’s a new sign out front.
The same premium bra brands are still there, as are the professional stylists who deliver the stores’ famous service.
But the conversion today of 13 U.S. stores in the Intimacy chain to the UK-based Rigby & Peller brand gives American women something they’ve never known before: a hands-on lingerie shopping experience backed up by a Royal Warrant.
That doesn’t mean the Queen or Kate Middleton will shop there — although they could, because that’s a what Royal Warrant signifies — but it does means U.S. shoppers can enjoy the impeccable 75-year heritage that has made Rigby & Peller the world’s most prestigious name in lingerie retailing.
The rebranding of Intimacy stores, which began Friday with the chain’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York, was made possible because Belgian lingerie company Van de Velde acquired controlling interest in both the UK and U.S. chains over the past few years.
Intimacy was an American entrepreneurial success story, launched in 1992 by Atlanta couple Susan and David Nethero, and eventually grew to include 16 stores that provided personal bra-fit service to millions of American women.
The Netheros’ decision in 2012 to sell a majority stake in Intimacy to Van de Velde — which purchased Rigby & Peller a year earlier — made sense: Susan Nethero, who had become known as America’s “bra whisperer”, was trained in the craft by R&P’s June Kenton, the personal bra fitter to the Queen and other members of the royal family.
Still, today’s entry of Rigby & Peller into the American lingerie market is more than just a cosmetic change. It’s a key part of Van de Velde‘s international expansion strategy for the Rigby & Peller brand and, according to one investment analyst, an attempt to “put the specialty lingerie store back on the map.”
Despite its own stellar reputation for personalized service, the Intimacy chain has suffered financial losses since the Van de Velde acquisition, as American women turned to new players and alternatives in the intensely competitive retail shopping landscape.
In particular, the personal bra-fit experience — which puts a premium on expert training and personal attention over price — has been undermined by the rise of next-generation e-commerce operations that have replaced bra-fitting wizards with body-scanning apps and other innovations.
Van de Velde is counting on Rigby & Peller‘s time-tested approach (which it calls “Lingerie Styling”) to provide a bulwark against market erosion caused by fast fashion options and high-tech gimmicks. And while most recent changes in the lingerie marketplace seem to emphasize efficiency, speed and lower prices, Rigby & Peller aims to elevate — and slow down — the bra-shopping experience.
“Lingerie Styling,” the company said today in a press release, “provides a selected bra wardrobe that goes beyond focusing on one typical bra (for all your garments) but encompasses discovering styles that keep up with seasonal trends and fashionable colors that can respectively be worn with new and additional outfits (verses using one basic bra all of the time).”
“Imagine if every woman had a bra for every pair of shoes she owns – Lingerie Styling brings this idea to life,” said Holly Bocock, head of marketing at Rigby & Peller London. “By introducing this concept to American women who live busy lives, we want to be their one-stop shop for lingerie, swimwear and nightwear.”
An FAQ on the new Rigby & Peller U.S. website assures customers that sales staff from the former Intimacy stores won’t lose their jobs and the product selection won’t diminish — in fact, it will grow.
The new Rigby & Peller U.S. will continue to sell Van de Velde‘s bra brands such as PrimaDonna and Marie Jo along with numerous other premium brands from America and Europe in more than 90 sizes from A to K.
The stores’ rebranding also comes at a time when the urban retail landscape is changing for lingerie shoppers, too. In New York, where it has three stores, Rigby & Peller will face competition from branded retail operations by Agent Provocateur and its flirty cousin L’Agent; a new retail presence in SoHo by sexy French brand Maison Close; and the growing impact of indie retailer Journelle, which runs three stores and just launched its own house brand of lingerie.
Van de Velde currently operates about 28 Rigby & Peller stores in the UK, Germany, Denmark, Hong Kong and China in addition to the new U.S. fleet. The publicly-traded family firm is renowned as much for its management as its products, boasting 17 years of consecutive growth since it went public.
Rigby & Peller, meanwhile, has a storied legacy unparalleled in the industry, from serving generations of royalty to celebrities like Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow. It was founded in 1939 after seamstress Gita Peller fled her native Hungary to evade the Nazis and was taken in by Bertha Rigby in London. The company was awarded its Royal Warrant in 1960, a ceremonial designation given to tradespeople who provide products and services to the Queen’s household.